Inorganic Printed Electronics – The Great Opportunity
By Dr Peter Harrop
The future $300 billion market for printed electronics is emerging via thin film electronics. The contribution of organic materials to this is greatly publicized but the best devices being developed usually rely on inorganic or combined inorganic/organic technology. The more select groups developing these inorganic materials and devices have a great future. IDTechEx has published the first study on Inorganic Printed and Thin Film Electronics (www.idtechex.com/inorganic), and here Dr. Peter Harrop summarizes some of the findings.
Silicon chips have had a good run in the electronics industry but the lowest cost chips have not changed much in price for decades and wide area silicon, as with solar cells, is heavy, expensive and in need of huge government subsidies to be sold in any volume. Truly flexible – as opposed to bendable - silicon is non-existent in practicable form. Enter thin film electronics that increasingly can be printed, unlike silicon, and is potentially of low cost and very versatile, being useful for sensors, power, memory, logic, lighting and much else besides. Here we are not just talking of semiconductors but of dielectrics, conductors and light emitters for example.
Many companies and conferences use the terms organic or plastic electronics because over the last 10 years huge developments have been made with organic based devices, such as higher mobility and more stable materials, formulations allowing for printing organic semiconductors and much more. The progress of this new industry is phenomenal. So that is the end of the story? Nothing could be further from the truth. While the contribution of organic materials is greatly publicized and has attracted over one thousand participants already, there have been significant developments with inorganic printed electronics or combinations of both.
For conductors with vastly better conductance and cost, for the best printed batteries, for quantum dot devices and for transistor semiconductors with 10 times the mobility, look to the new inorganics. That is the emerging world of new nanoparticle metal and alloy inks that are magnitudes superior in cost, conductivity and stability, such as the flexible zinc oxide based transistor semiconductors working at 10 times the frequency and with best stability and life, along with many other inorganic materials.